Gramophone records, usually called phonograph records in the United States, were vinyl discs inscribed with a groove, which served as an analog storage system for audio. Records were the dominant musical medium around the world until the advent of the CD, which could store more music in a clearer fashion than phonographs. As of 2010, vinyl records continue to be used by DJs and alternative music artists, and are prized by collectors, who remain on the lookout for some of the more unusual types of phonographs.
EP originally stood for “extended play”, and referred to any kind of phonograph record which was longer than a single, which contained one song on each side, but was too short to hold an entire album. Singles were generally played at 45 rpm and were seven inches, but extended play discs could be either seven or eight inches, and contained four or more songs. EPs were much more popular in Europe and Asia, particulary Japan, than in America. The original British release of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” album was on two EPs and contained six songs (see references 1). It was far from their first EP-“Magical Mystery Tour” was the Fab Four’s thirteenth EP release in the UK. There were many releases of 8-inch EPs in the Philippines and Japan, and in 1982 the American band REM released their first major recording in the U.S. and Canada on an EP, the 12-inch “Chronic Town.”
Most records during the heyday of gramophones were a basic black, but many bands, especially alternative bands, experimented with releasing vinyl in different colors, many of which turned into collector’s items. Some records were were single color, such as pink or blue, while others had patterns, and still others featured complete pictures embedded into the vinyl, commonly called picture discs. Iron Maiden’s “Killers” was released on both black and green vinyl, while the Strangler’s “Black and White” album came on swirled marble vinyl.
When gramophone records first became popular in the early part of the 20th century, most records were played at 78 rpm and were made of a mixture of shellac, filler materials and carbon black, which gave them their color. These kinds of records, also sometimes called 78s, went out of style quickly when 33 rpm became the dominant speed in recordings, but these old shellac records were still prized by their owners. Shellac records are brittle and break easily, which has led them to become even more rare, although some owners digitally copy the music off their discs and then put them away for safekeeping. Famous names in music from all over the world made records on shellac, including Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Enrico Caruso, the Count Basie Orchestra and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Original 78 rpm shellac records from these artists can be worth hundreds of dollars.
Graham Calkin’s Beatle Page: EP-Magical Mystery Tour
REM Web Discography: Albums and EPs
Personal Record Making: Stamping the Record